Left: Artist Carroll Dunham and Laurie Simmons. Right: Clarissa Dalrymple, artist Adam McEwen, and a friend. (All photos: Linda Yablonsky)
At the Friday-night opening of Carroll Dunham's second solo outing at Gladstone Gallery, the question on everyone's lips was, “Vulva or rectum?” This conundrum derived from Dunham’s rude new paintings of his beloved protagonist, Mr. Penis Nose, in his signature fedora. We didn’t see so much of the famed proboscis—just the business end—in the plainly autoerotic Square Mule, 2007, the sole occupant of one room in the gallery. The canvas shows Mr. Penis Nose bottom up, with his revolver aimed back at his gluteus maximus. The bullet rictus where the rectum would be had the unmistakable aura of labia. “Thinking a lot about assholes lately?” I asked Dunham. Why did it sound as if I were flirting? “You’re projecting,” he replied. “That is not an asshole,” confirmed Buddhist psychiatrist Mark Epstein, attending with his wife, Buddhist sculptor Arlene Shechet. “What then?” both New Museum director Lisa Phillips and I wanted to know. Replied Epstein, “That is a target painting. It is the key to the whole show.” Jasper Johns, eat your heart out.
In fact, the painting is something like a hinge on which Dunham is swinging front and rear, mixing the elegant with the crude; the show includes both the nervy man-with-a-gun paintings and terrific brown-and-yellow canvases that take the same hapless character, facing forward this time, and fold him flat into abstraction on the surface like a neatly ironed shirt.
The invited crowd of mostly artists—Kiki Smith, James Siena, Alexi Worth, Steve DiBenedetto, Mel Bochner, Matthew Ritchie, Sarah Charlesworth—mingled freely but also took time to examine each work. “What do you think,” I asked Charlesworth. “Vagina or ass?” “I’m reserving judgment,” she said. “But isn’t it both?”
“Dinner” had it both ways, too: Cocktails met down-home blinis at Pravda. At the bar, I overheard Phillips make a play for “the big painting.” “We may be the only museum that would actually keep it on view,” she said. Does this mean that the new New Museum, when it opens later this year, will actually have a permanent collection? I never found out, having moved on to conversation with Matthew Barney (recently returned from Moscow, where he decided that the chilled Lenin corpse is “totally fake”) and novelist Susanna Moore, whose upcoming book, The Big Girls, is set in part in a women’s prison. “What do you think?” I asked Moore. “Asshole or . . . ?” She said, “Isn’t it marvelous?” It wasn’t until I said my good-nights to Simmons that I realized she was sitting with her friend (and cast member in her film The Music of Regret) Meryl Streep. “Didn’t you love our movie?” squealed Streep. She seemed a little tipsy. “Oh, I keep it under my pillow,” I replied and took her picture. She looked great.
For a change of pace, on Saturday night I went to . . . another opening, this one at the Paula Cooper Gallery. Inside, invitees gathered around artist Julian Lethbridge, who was surprised to hear his opening was closed to the public, but beamed at accolades from the likes of food writer Moira Hodgson, ballet dancer Heather Watts, book editor Steven M. L. Aronson, and artists Terry Winters, Kelley Walker, and Cecily Brown. James and Alexandra Brown were there, too, en route from Paris to Oaxaca, where they are producing new books by Joan Jonas and Rob Wynne for Carpe Diem, their exquisite collection (bought by MoMA) of livres d'artiste.
At Cooper, there was no controversy over the two distinct groups of paintings. The smaller, less jungly, beautifully textured abstractions were particularly effective, suggesting that Lethbridge has discovered a new painter within. If a couple of canvases did seem van Gogh–like, it was to their advantage. And so it was, as an even more exclusive crowd gathered at the Wooster Street loft of Clarissa Dalrymple, who cohosted an Indian buffet dinner from Rice (served by Glorious Food waiters) with Lethbridge paramour Anne Bass.
“We spent the '90s here,” said Times critic Roberta Smith, as cohort Jerry Saltz watched Whitney curator Donna De Salvo, Gagosian Gallery’s Bob Monk, writer David Plante, and real estate superagent Jan Hashey chow down while lounging on the parachute-silk-covered divans. Of course, for a large swath of the contemporary art world, the '90s could not have lived up to its name without those intense mixers; by comparison, this one was an island of peace and serenity, an exercise in ease. “If you really want to do the smart thing,” Plante told me, “you’ll buy a house in Damascus. That’s the place to be.” Then how come he bought an apartment in Athens? “It’s doubled in value in just a year,” he said, sounding suspiciously like a certain type of art collector. Well, live and let live—or, as John Cage said, “Everyone is in the best seat.”
Left: White Cube's Jay Jopling and artist Andreas Gursky. Right: Dealer Monika Sprüth and Andrew Silewicz, director of Monika Sprüth Philomene Magers. (All photos: Lillian Davies)
As I entered Mason’s Yard at 6:30 PM last Thursday, the cobbled square was already packed with youthful hipsters sipping beer under a green vinyl tarp. Do these revelers ever even make it into the gallery, I wondered? I navigated through the crowd and into White Cube’s latest annex, where all three levels had been given over to eleven of photographer Andreas Gursky’s new works—more than five thousand square feet of pure spectacle. But technically, this was only half of the show—Monika Sprüth and Philomene Magers’s new Grafton Street gallery (officially opening that night) was hosting the rest. So when White Cube impresario Jay Jopling showed up on the scene at 7 PM, I wanted to know how the goods had been divvied up. “Andreas decided” was Jopling’s diplomatic reply, though, given the artist’s clout, bolstered by his success last month at Sotheby’s London (his 99 Cent II Diptychon, 2001, went for $3.3 million—a tad ironic given the content—making it the most expensive photograph ever sold at auction), this seemed not an unbelievable answer.
I found Sotheby’s Francis Outred stationed before Kamiokande, 2007, a wall of gold baubles (really neutrino detectors reflecting off an underground lake in Japan), the work he identified as the most salable piece of the lot. On the strength of this new show, Outred remarked that he “can’t see anything other than a positive impact on the Gursky market,” at which point Jopling cut through the crowd with the artist, into the steel elevators, and up to who knows where.
The scene at White Cube had been a little overwhelming, and after a short walk across Piccadilly and into Mayfair to Sprüth-Magers, the cheerful storefront windows and old-timey woodworked sign of Gursky’s German hosts were beacons of reassurance. The charming street-level gallery was packed—thankfully, the waiters circling with trays laden with flutes of Moët were nimble enough to dodge elbows. Three stunning photographs rounded out the two-venue affair, including an elegant photograph of a Bahrain racetrack.
Left: Barbican curator Kate Bush with Tate Modern curator Frances Morris. Right: Collector Safron Aldridge.
Monika Sprüth confirmed that “Andreas Gursky had decided” on which gallery got what. Having worked with him since the ’80s, Sprüth, now “his oldest dealer,” sees great progress in this latest work. Her favorite was the “F1 Boxenstopp” (F1 Pit Crew) series—“exquisite lighting, like Caravaggios.” I watched one woman, wearing a ludicrous green-tweed trouser suit topped off with a bright orange cap, investigate the crowds, hugging each switchback of Tour de France I, 2007, with an illuminated magnifying glass. (I used the Sherlock Holmes incident as my opener with the artist later on at dinner. Gursky seemed pleased: “My work holds up even at the microscopic level.”)
Sprüth-Magers director Andrew Silewicz recalled Gursky’s 1996 solo show at Victoria Miro. “We had barely thirty people at the opening, and nobody was interested in the work.” But just over a decade later, it’s clearly a different story, with the Gursky exhibition team from Haus der Kunst reporting record crowds at the big Munich show, and two West End galleries packed to capacity. With five thousand visitors last Sunday, apparently “it’s getting a little hard on the guards” in Germany.
At nine, I made my way to the Berkeley Hotel, where the two galleries pooled efforts to host a seated dinner for 150. The three hosts held court at the center table, where I also found Haus der Kunst director Chris Dercon. He was thrilled with the success of the Munich show and eager to “reinject the work into unexpected sites” when the show tours to Istanbul and Sharjah. Jopling, clearly head over heels, made a toast, admitting that he had “wanted to work with Gursky for a very long time“ and ”admired him because he’s a man that gets what he wants.” I was unsure whether we were talking about the dealer or the artist.
During coffee, Rupert Meaker, owner of Aura nightclub, visited each table to whisper the password for the after-party—“Gursky.” Tricky! A less shrewd gatekeeper would have gone for the obvious Ruff or Struth. Soon almost every guest was hailing “Aura on Saint James street, please”; bottles of Grey Goose packed in ice were ready at each table. Having heard about the extravagant rave at Gursky’s Haus der Kunst opening last month, I had some idea of what to expect. Legendary German DJ Sven Väth, a longtime pal of Gursky’s, didn’t kick off his set until well after midnight, and as his music peaked toward 3 AM, the guest of honor looked to be completely in his element, dancing with everyone. Spotting me in the crowd, Silewicz shouted over the music: “Every opening should be like this!”
Left: DJ Sven Väth and Andreas Gursky. Right: White Cube's Craig Burnett and Tate Modern curator Ben Borthwick.
Left: Getty Research Institute director Thomas Crow with artist Thomas Lawson. Right: Artist Laurie Nye. (All photos: Andrew Berardini)
While the Irish-at-heart stumbled through Saint Patrick’s Day fueled by unnaturally green beer and endless Jameson whiskey, I meandered past the car wrecks and sobriety checkpoints while trying to discern something—anything—about the state of painting in Los Angeles. With the evening promising a pair of Toms and new exhibitions at a trio of galleries with complimentary acronyms (LAXART, 1301PE, and ACME), I opted to limit myself to nonalcoholic beverages in order to increase my chances of making sense of it all.
At LAXART, artist and CalArts dean Thomas Lawson was celebrating his first painting solo in, well, a really long time. Having helped a generation of students chart its course, it only seemed fitting that his triumphant return should feature a series of map paintings. Nearly a dozen canvases explore the fantasies and follies of cartography, and they are paired with small portraits of current political leaders and the victims of their decisions. To launch the exhibition, the nonprofit gallery sponsored a Tom vs. Tom battle royale, with Lawson going head-to-head with the Getty Research Institute’s Thomas Crow, who will soon depart Los Angeles for the NYU professorship recently vacated by Robert Storr. Sharing a microphone, the two Toms sat at a long wooden table and sparred sotto voce about geopolitical mayhem and the trouble with abstract painting.
Near the end of their cordial yet evasive exchange, the dogged Crow finally pinned Lawson down by asking, “Would you say there’s a bit of romanticism in your paintings?” Sipping from his Campari and orange highball, Lawson grinned and replied, “Yeah, I’d cop to that.” Punctuated by incessant camera flashes, the conversation felt like a press conference. A woman behind me mused, suppressing a giggle, “They look like a couple of TV anchors! ‘And back to you, Tom.’”
Left: Artist Charline von Heyl. Right: Artist Shana Lutker with LAXART curators Aram Moshayedi and Lauri Firstenberg.
After the talk, I inched northeast to the gallery complex at 6150 Wilshire, where a slew of painting shows opened simultaneously: Paula Kane and Laurie Nye at Karyn Lovegrove, Nicola Tyson at Marc Foxx, Charline von Heyl at 1301PE, and Monique Prieto at ACME. Every gallery I hit was crowded, and, seeing faces familiar from my Culver City stop, I couldn’t help but wonder why no one has yet launched an opening-reception car-pool switchboard.
Los Angeles loves to hate painters—whether homegrown or imported. A few years ago, I attended a CalArts panel where the quirky, delicate Laura Owens was nearly lynched by a mob of students that lambasted her for numerous alleged crimes—from her “lack of politics” to her palette—without acknowledging the anticanvas stance beneath their anger. True to form, a few twentysomethings, having never made it past the bucket of beer in the courtyard, panned Saturday evening’s shows with offhand sneers. Perhaps they were uncomfortable with the one thread connecting the work: It all teetered on the verge of abstraction, walking the line between fantasy and reality without committing to either. In a way, you could say Los Angeles does the same thing.
Passing a six-car pileup on the 10 freeway on my way to Prieto’s dinner, I decided to avoid snarled traffic by dropping in on the Chinatown “Art Walk” and a smattering of openings: Eve Fowler at Thomas Solomon, Drew Heitzler at Trudi, and a group show at Jack Hanley organized by Chinatown’s resident hard-edge abstractionist, Bart Exposito. If the 6150 Wilshire and Culver City openings draw the fine-suit-and-fur set, laid-back Chinatown remains pleasingly dedicated to jeans and sweaters.
I passed through a drunk-driver dragnet—a disheartening reminder of the holiday—on my way to Cobras & Matadors, the hip tapas restaurant in Los Feliz where ACME was toasting Prieto. The celebration felt like a CalArts ten-year reunion, with Prieto’s classmates Ingrid Calame and Owens at one table. The painters and gallery staff were joined by “Undiscovered Country” breakout star Edgar Bryan; artist Joe Sola, accompanied by his wife, LACMA’s Erin Wright; and composer Michael Webster. With dreadlocks spiraled into a knot on top of her head, Calame rested her hands on her pregnant belly throughout our conversation, her beatific grin a disarming contrast to her sharp wit. With mussels and sweet endive salads before us, conversation roamed widely but always returned to the theme of my evening: painting. “At CalArts, most artists were poststudio, but there were a handful who weren’t fabricators. Monique, Laura, and me . . .” Pausing, she glanced across the table at her chums. “At the time, we received very little encouragement,” she remembered. “Except from Tom Lawson. Without him, everything would have been much more difficult.”
And back to you, Tom.
Left: Venice Biennale president Davide Croff. Right: Venice Biennale artistic director Robert Storr. (All photos: David Velasco)
Given that the forthcoming 52nd International Art Exhibition of the Biennale de Venezia is the first organized by an artistic director from the United States, it has seemed odd that clues about hyperproductive curator, critic, teacher, and (lest we forget!) painter Robert Storr’s exhibition have mostly come piecemeal. Clues have arrived from his interviews with German feuilleton writers, jump-the-gun e-mails from galleries proudly announcing, for example, the participation of Los Angeles–based artist Charles Gaines or office-aesthetic-obsessed archivist and performer Christine Hill, and, of course, the ever-reliable rumor mill. At noon on Friday, roughly two hundred journalists and assorted interested parties descended on the Museum of Modern Art, Storr’s former employer, to get the full scoop. “We heard about the conference at the last minute,” whispered a friend who works in MoMA’s publication department, indicating, perhaps, that while Storr has postdefection pals in the palace, this was not considered an overly special occasion. “We’re only here because a curator told us he was on his way down to the auditorium.”
For those of you unfamiliar with the process, those random MoMA staffers were joined by journalists, curators, gallery staffers, and unknowns, most poised, like myself, with pad and pencil. Before the proceedings, people walked the aisles, air-kissing and offering predictions under their breath. So, what did we learn? Storr’s exhibition, burdened with the grammatically intimidating title “Think with the Senses—Feel with the Mind: Art in the Present Tense,” is deliberately small as blockbuster biennials go, with only ninety-six artists and artist groups; will include “art that speaks to the present moment” without being a survey of objects produced in the last two years; will feature those who “straddle the divide between the beauty camp and the criticality camp” (not, I admit, the most savory image); and will teem with artists working in the United States, who make up a third of the hallowed list. Storr averred that many of these had arrived from elsewhere, citing Emily Jacir and Louise Bourgeois, the latter being “as French as they come—but she lives downtown.”
Bourgeois, obviously a Storr favorite (he coauthored her Phaidon monograph), came up at another moment, as Storr described his mix of “the young and the restless, and the aged—who are also restless.” Indeed, the list is very long in the tooth: By my rough count, there are eighteen artists born in the '40s, eleven born even earlier, and a lone youngster: San Francisco–based artist Emily Prince, born 1981, who, I later learned, embroidered the cover of avant-harpist Joanna Newsom’s 2004 album The Milk-Eyed Mender. “I don’t want people to keep score,” Storr cautioned, admitting immediately that he knew people would. So here’s another tally: With Raymond Pettibon, Raoul De Keyser, and Francis Alÿs (as well as Jason Rhoades and Fred Sandback) in Storr’s exhibition, and Isa Genzken representing Germany, I don’t envy New York superdealer David Zwirner’s Venetian party planner.
Storr and Davide Croff, the Biennale foundation’s president, claimed ignorance regarding which Chinese artists curator Hou Hanru had selected for that country’s pavilion. Good thing they’re listed in the press packet: Shen Yuan, Yin Xiuzhen, Kan Xuan, and Cao Fei. Curiously, Juergen Teller, Mark Titchner, and Sam Taylor-Wood are among those representing Ukraine, in a pavilion commissioned by Peter Doroshenko. Turkey and Africa have each been invited to fill a centrally located pavilion at reduced cost—“as part of Rob’s aesthetic direction,” Croff explained, indicating that this would not be a permanent situation. (India was invited but couldn’t participate.) Italy gets its own pavilion for the first time, and Ida Gianelli has selected Giuseppe Penone and Francesco Vezzoli—natural bedfellows, surely—to create new works for the Tese delle Vergini, in the Arsenale. By this point, a parlor game—unlikely two-artist pairings—suggested itself: Karen Kilimnik and Mark di Suvero? Candida Höfer and Martin Kippenberger? Oh, wait . . .
The US pavilion (Felix Gonzalez-Torres) was little discussed, and the British (Tracey Emin), French (Sophie Calle), and German (Isa Genzken) ones went unmentioned. The limp questions offered during the brief Q&A session extracted little new information of note, though Artnet editor Walter Robinson asked about budgets, which provoked the dapper Croff to describe his foundation’s resources (nine million euros for this show) as “scarce.” At this point, Storr interjected with fulsome praise for MoMA’s International Committee, a group whose members one can imagine providing a decent meal and a soft pillow to a weary curator; it had apparently done just that during his six-continent journey. (Pierre Huyghe, included in the exhibition, had already plundered Antarctica so Storr didn’t have to.) With that, the conference ended, prompting another round of second guessing, informal wagering (I bet Susan Rothenberg paints a horse!), and, for the lucky ninety-six, celebration.
The full artist list is available by clicking here.
Left: Collector Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo. Right: The view from the helicopter. (Photos: David Velasco)
With the DVD release of Dynasty: The Complete Second Season still pending, my life has been sorely lacking in glamour of late. So when Turin’s Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo alerted us that their plans called for a press junket for foreign journalists to Monaco last Saturday for the unveiling of “Glowbowl”—a terse survey of contemporary art drawn from the foundation’s collection by artistic director Francesco Bonami and independent curator Martine Frésia—I dusted off my Nolan Miller evening wear, scored a stash of Ambien, and prepared for a transatlantic redeye.
Monaco doesn’t have an airport, so I flew into Nice, where I was then whisked off by helicopter to Monte Carlo and the palatial Hotel Metropole. “It’s a bit kitschy, isn’t it?” declared congenial press person–cum–BBC documentarian Helen Weaver, as I eyed the lobby’s gilded pillars and fusty Persian rugs. A pastiche paradise, Monaco is glamorous but not chic, less sophisticated than merely expensive. (A typical spaghetti alla pomodoro, I was told, could easily set me back eighty euros. I decided to stick to the prearranged fare.)
At the hotel, I was introduced to collector Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, the fondazione’s president, who also happens to have been responsible for producing Maurizio Cattelan’s audacious re-creation of the Hollywood sign on a crest of landfill in Palermo during the 2001 Venice Biennale. Patrizia recounted how, on a return visit to Palermo, she feigned ignorance and slyly asked her taxi driver to explain the origins of Cattelan’s tribute to the Los Angeles landmark. To her delight, the driver responded that it was for a movie being made in the area starring Sylvester Stallone.
Left: Gheri Sackler, Rita Rovelli Caltagirone, and Delphine Pastor. (Photo: Marco Novello) Right: Curator Francesco Bonami. (Photo: David Velasco)
Monaco has no museum of contemporary art, so the show itself was held in a scanty exposition space above an outpost of Marlborough Gallery. The exhibition was the brainchild of a “scientific committee” comprising three Monaco residents—Rita Rovelli Caltagirone and Gheri Sackler (both members of the Guggenheim’s acquisition committee), as well as native Monegasque Delphine Pastor, a local art dealer and scion of one of the principality’s most prominent families. The show was organized with a view toward developing a proper space for contemporary art in Monaco, with the idea of inviting major collectors to showcase their goods and thus build momentum for a museum, but none of the players involved could offer more specific plans. “There’s great interest, but nothing’s confirmed,” Sackler told me.
At the opening, the ever-gregarious Bonami led a tour in French for the well-heeled crowd (men in bespoke suits with pocket squares, women decked with brilliants), putting on a rather dazzling show and drawing a few laughs. (I didn’t understand a word, but I think I caught the gist of his spiel in his catalogue text, which included such germane if slightly strained analogies as “a contemporary art work is like a F.1 racing inside your mind, even if you hate it you can’t dismiss it, like you can’t dismiss a F.1 racing under your window, you can try not to look at it but you will always hear it.”) Though he can play the jester, Bonami’s no fool, and despite its cloying title, the show is an engaging, if slightly generic, adaptation of a well-developed contemporary collection. Subtlety is not the exhibition’s forte, culling from big names of the brassy '90s, and prominently featuring such standards as Matthew Barney, Maurizio Cattelan, Sarah Lucas, and Shirin Neshat. Scoring first place in controversy was Thomas Hirschhorn’s Camo Family, 2006 (last seen at Barbara Gladstone’s booth at the Frieze Art Fair), the fulsome brutality of which sharply contrasted with the more comic violence of Cattelan’s Bidibidobidiboo, 1996, an installation depicting a squirrel committing suicide. Much of the work was business as usual, though two shining exceptions were recent videos by young Korean artists: Koo Donghee’s excellent Tragedy Competition, 2004, and Lee Yong-Baek’s sparkling Angel Soldier, 2005—two finds which Bonami also included in his recent group show of contemporary Asian artists, “Alllooksame,” at the foundation's space in Turin.
Left: RS&A's Mark Sanders. Right: Helen Weaver and Olivier Borgeaud of the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo. (Photos: David Velasco)
In a taxi on our way to dinner, Helen noted that you don’t have to wear seatbelts in Monaco. Italian critic Cesare Cunaccia quipped: “It’s very free here, but you have to pay for it—a land of opportunity.” Dinner was young salad and filet mignon for 130 at La Salle Empire, an ostentatious banquet hall dappled with chandeliers and faux Greek statues and banked by a billboard-size stab at Renaissance realism. The waiters performed in a manner that some might describe as impeccable, though to my bohemian mores it was a bit exotic. At odds with the otherwise perfectly posh dinner was an incongruous sound track (Prince’s “Alphabet St.”?) and a large projection of Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno’s Zidane installed high above the diners.
Afterward, a few diehards, myself among them, repaired to the bar of the Hotel de Paris, where an awful band crooned Broadway show tunes for drunken expats. With an eye on my watch (the next day’s return flight meant an early wake-up call), I stepped out into the balmy Côte d’Azur night, my Champagne wishes and caviar dreams already sated.
Left: The dinner at La Salle Empire. (Photo: Marco Novello) Right: Art consultant Josephine Hsieh and Thomas Fallegger of Chinart Collection Corp. (Photo: David Velasco)
Left: Architect Yury Avvakumov and Zdenka Badovinac, director of Moderna Galerija, Ljubljana. Right: Moscow Biennale curator Iara Boubnova with Art Basel director Samuel Keller. (Photos: Brian Droitcour)
Russians grew tired of the bread lines of perestroika and switched from queuing to crowding ca. 1993, a historical shift that visitors to the second Moscow Biennale experienced firsthand last Thursday, when getting into the opening meant ploughing through a dense mob outside. The venue—Federation Tower, an unfinished skyscraper in the city’s nascent financial district—has only one working elevator, so organizers controlled traffic with an outdoor checkpoint. Visitors rushed the entrance, some squeezing their way along the fence, making for an unpleasant half hour of pushing and shoving.
I expected as much—the same thing happened at a party at the building in November. “By now, all the curators have taken the secret underground exit and gone to the after-party,” said Semyon Mikhailovsky, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation’s adviser in Russia, as we stood chest to chest in the crowd. I pictured local art impresario and Biennale commissioner Joseph Backstein climbing into the Batmobile and zipping off to the Philippe Starck–designed restaurant Bon for drinks courtesy of the European Commission.
Once inside, it was clear that while management has a few things to learn about crowd control, the first biennial’s curatorial errors had been rectified. Rather than letting six curators knock heads over a single space, autonomous territories on the nineteenth and twentieth floors were delineated for use by Backstein, Iara Boubnova, and Nicolas Bourriaud. A joint project by Fulya Erdemci and Rosa Martinez was added to the mix, but the design still looked cleaner and more logical than the earlier incarnation’s. And if, two years ago, staging an exhibition called “Dialectics of Hope” in the former Lenin Museum could have been construed as a jab at Vladimir Ilyich, then this year’s theme (“Footnotes on Geopolitics, Markets, and Amnesia”) dovetailed neatly with the location, an international center of commerce rising above the ruins of a Soviet industrial zone.
One blemish was “Through the ‘Painting,’” a bland exhibition installed one floor up. The number of quotation marks in the title is likely equivalent to the figures in the sum that the Russian Century Foundation paid to hang works from their collection in the Federation Tower so viewers would confuse them with the choices of celebrity curators (and many did, despite the signs designating it a “special project,” i.e., a second-tier show in Moscow Biennale hierarchy).
Left: Dealer and artist Aidan Salkhova with Moscow Biennale commissioner Joseph Backstein. (Photo: Ignat Daniltsev/ArtChronika) Right: Artists Jordan Wolfson and Michael Portnoy. (Photo: Brian Droitcour)
The other exhibition conferred main-project status was “American Video Art at the Beginning of the Third Millenium,” an all-video installment of the traveling exhibition “Uncertain States of America.” It opened in an unfinished addition to TsUM, a high-end department store not far from the Kremlin. I was curious to know how the curators (Daniel Birnbaum, Gunnar B. Kvaran, and Hans-Ulrich Obrist) felt about installing a show down the hall from Baby Phat streetwear. But since they were only in Moscow for a few hours on Wednesday—the time it took to make sure no one had screwed up the installation—I didn’t have a chance to ask.
As a whole, the Moscow Biennale represents an unabashed use of art as a promotional tool for commercial real estate. This was particularly evident at Winzavod, where on Friday a banner advertising space for rent was bigger and better lit than signs for the five special projects opening that night. Winzavod is a prerevolutionary winery undergoing conversion into office space for creative-class companies—including Moscow’s four oldest private galleries (Aidan, Guelman, Regina, and XL), which have worked steadily since the early ’90s and farm out local artists for biennials in Moscow and elsewhere. They debuted their new spaces that night.
The Tajik gastarbeiters reconstructing Winzavod were allowed to emerge from their subterranean camp to rub shoulders with the biennial crowd, but I wondered whether they should have been grounded for not completing their job in time. “The floors and the walls aren’t finished, even though I’ve been paying rent for months,” Aidan Salakhova, owner of Aidan Gallery (and an artist participating in Boubnova’s project at Federation Tower), told me earlier in the week. “There’s no way I can put expensive works in there.” She had to convince her artist, Elena Berg, to change her exhibition from objects to a sound installation.
Despite the setbacks, Salakhova was glowing when she hosted Friday night’s Art Basel party at the Apartment, one of those Moscow restaurants that declare their elite status with a location that is inaccessible by public transport. American and European artists partied by the well-lit bar, while Russian artists (those shy philosophers) sulked in dark corners. Nic Iljine, the Guggenheim Foundation’s director of corporate development in Europe and the Middle East, asserted his status as the most powerful man in Russian art (according to a recent rating by ArtChronika magazine) by throwing his own party in a VIP room.
Left: Critic Andrei Kovalev; Zelfira Tregulova, deputy director of the Kremlin Museums; and dealer Marat Guelman. (Photo: Ignat Daniltsev/ArtChronika) Right: Artists the TM Sisters. (Photo: Philip Tinari)
After receiving lime-green AIDAN GALLERY bracelets (supposedly tickets to the after-after-party), I negotiated gypsy-cab fares for three carloads of artists and we headed to Diaghilev. But the club’s bouncers refused to honor the bracelets, and the atmosphere soon reprised the scene outside Federation Tower the night before. I persuaded a small posse to follow me to a less pretentious bar unaffiliated with the biennial, but some artists—perhaps entertaining dreams of oligarch collectors—could not be convinced. “We need to get inside that club,” insisted Jordan Wolfson, and he and Michael Portnoy ran back to join the throng.
On Saturday, after stopping by some openings at the National Center for Contemporary Art (“Viewing of the Valie Export exhibition is not recommended for underages and for persons with unbalanced nerves,” warned a sign), I went to a cocktail party at the home of dealer Marat Guelman. His name last graced international news outlets in October after a band of thugs savagely beat him in his gallery for still-unclear reasons. (A few weeks ago, I asked whether the investigation had made any headway. He replied, “No, not really, but the police recently put a new detective in charge of my case.”)
I spent the evening in the study translating a dead-end debate between Wall Street Journal correspondent Melik Kaylan and two artists, Alexander Shaburov (of the Blue Noses) and Dmitry Gutov. Kaylan argued that Russian artists ought to take an anti-Putin stance in their work, while the artists themselves insisted they had more important things to think about. It made me think about the “Sots Art” show that opened Friday at the Tretyakov Gallery (incidentally, without the much-hyped Chinese section sponsored by Beijing dealer Xin Dong Cheng, marooned in customs) with works from the ’70s and ’80s that pleased Western audiences with their anti-Soviet stance. They shaped expectations of Russian art that linger today. I wonder how many more Moscow Biennales there will be before visitors stop looking for something similar, and before the “geopolitical amnesia” really sets in.
Left: Gilles Hennessy and Sabina Belli. (Except where noted, all photos: Nicolas Trembley) Right: Chicks on Speed at the Pompidou Center. (Photo: Bertrand Prévost)
These days, fashion week in Paris looks a lot like art week, with countless galleries hired out by top designers to show off their creations and acres of prime museum real estate used for runway shows: Haute couture has obviously concluded that contemporary art adds that necessary je ne sais quoi to its glamorous proceedings. “Entrepreneurs like us could be described as the new patrons of the arts, latter-day Medicis,” said Sabina Belli, standing with Gilles Hennessy at an event unveiling a hundred-year-old cognac at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. The venerable concoction is composed of more than one hundred liqueurs—and goes for €100,000. It does come in a specially designed box by Jean-Michel Othoniel.
The weekend got off to a roaring start with a performance at the Pompidou by interdisciplinary savants Chicks on Speed and master film artist Douglas Gordon, all outfitted for the occasion by legendary stylist and collector Jean-Charles de Castelbajac. A slideshow featuring the girl group posed in the art-filled home of Swiss collector Franz Wassmer was very entertaining. (The penthouse, with a stunning view of the Eiffel Tower, recently served as the site of a chichi after-party celebrating the arrival of the traveling Fischli & Weiss retrospective at the Musée d’Art Moderne.) By the end of the antics, Gordon was completely nude, sitting onstage in a bath of fluorescent paint, while the Chicks hollered over booming electro beats: “He is stuck in the art market, stuck in the art market!”
Not to be outdone, Bless invited its audience to a performance on the roof of the Montparnasse Tower. There, buffeted by blasts of wind, you could mingle about the catwalk with the newest generation of critics, curators, graphic designers, artists, and architects. Later, the art crowd reconvened at Dior’s luxe jewelry show, where Eric Troncy, a director of the Consortium in Dijon, had been commissioned by designer Victoire de Castellane to present her latest collection, “Belladone Island.” The jewelry was first displayed in the popular virtual-world video game Second Life in a setting created by artists Ida Tursic and Wilfried Mille, followed up by a “real-life” show among Monet’s water lilies at the Musée de l’Orangerie (with a film by Thai independent auteur Apichatpong Weerasethakul, highlighting the carnivorous plants that inspired the pieces, as an added bonus).
One event not to be missed (or so I heard, having missed it) was the preview for David Lynch’s retrospective, “The Air Is on Fire,” at the Cartier Foundation. The filmmaker worked with star cobbler Christian Louboutin on three shoes incorporated into sculptures. Apparently, the fashion world turned out in full force, including such glitterati as L’Wren Scott, Juergen Teller, Agnès B., Yohji Yamamoto, Inès de la Fressange, and even Balenciaga cynosure Nicolas Ghesquière, who—you guessed it—just completed a collaborative project with Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster at the Musée d’Art Moderne.
Fashion loves an art star, and this season’s headliner proved to be appropriation doyenne Sturtevant. Her Warhol-inspired Black Marilyn was exhibited at Colette as part of the festivities marking the temple of high-concept chic’s tenth anniversary. Ten curators selected works for the boutique’s walls, including Hans-Ulrich Obrist, Stephanie Moisdon, Marie-Claude Beaud, Jeffrey Deitch, and Payam Sharifi. Cementing Sturtevant’s cult status, the most popular place to be and be seen at week’s end was the artist’s Thaddaeus Ropac blockbuster, “Raw Power,” a potent mix of works referencing everything from Robert Gober to Abu Ghraib. A minisymposium brought together the critics Ann Hindry and Raimund Stecker, Sturtevant herself, and MMK Frankfurt director Udo Kittelmann to dilate on the topic “falsity/truth.” I knew I wouldn’t understand a word, so I quickly shuffled off to neighboring gallery Cent8, where Serge Leborgne was presenting the work of Georges Tony Stoll, then hooked up with artist Hinrich Sachs, who accompanied me to Thomas Hirschhorn’s jarring exhibition at Chantal Crousel. Hirschhorn recently published a lengthy letter in Purple explaining why he didn’t want to be associated with fashion. Who could’ve guessed he’d be fighting off couturiers?
Saturday evening finally ended at Castel, the chic Parisian club, where Ropac and Frog magazine—whose cover features Sturtevant posing in vintage Chloé—threw a party for the artist with a dress code: “No messy running shoes.” Though Sturtevant had dislocated her shoulder while preparing for her exhibition, she was quite happy to dance till the wee morning hours surrounded by fashion folks like Irié, Pierre Hardy, and the CEO of Lanvin, now the art world’s special new friends.
Left: Artist Catherine Lord, curator Helen Molesworth, and “WACK!” curator Connie Butler. Right: Artists Martha Rosler and Martha Wilson. (All photos: Andrew Berardini)
“Vaginas, vaginas, vaginas. Aren’t they wonderful?” one local female curator whispered to me, and indeed, the moment I stepped into Thursday’s VIP reception celebrating “WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution,” her point had been won. The first thing one sees upon entering MoCA’s Geffen Contemporary is Magdalena Abakanowicz’s thirteen-foot-tall knitted red vagina; imagine Courbet’s L’Origine du Monde as a gargantuan tea cozy.
Strolling among the roughly 450 works by 120 women artists, I was struck by the exhibition’s overwhelming diversity, from the truth-telling portraiture of Alice Neel and the bawdy pageantry of Judy Chicago to postfeminist Cindy Sherman and posthuman Orlan. Inspired efforts—seldom glimpsed by viewers outside of textbooks—appeared around each corner: nude snaps of performance artist and Throbbing Gristle member Cosey Fanny Tutti from her 1976 “Prostitution” show, held at London’s ICA, or Mako Idemitsu’s inadvertently hilarious film Inner-Man, 1972, in which a dancing naked male is superimposed on an image of a placid geisha.
In the main gallery, one rambunctious donor in a fur coat overturned an Isa Genzken floor sculpture when she clipped it with her very high heels. Security arrived on cue to admonish her, to which the dowager protested, “How was I to know it was art?” Nearby, the ubiquitous writer-curator Warren Niesluchowski stood in front of a pink-and-black Mary Heilmann (a taste of the painter’s upcoming retrospective, opening in May at the Orange County Museum of Art). The exhibition “really does re-create the moment,” he told me, tugging at the silk scarf around his neck. “Who knows what history will do with the movement, but right now it’s monumental."
MoCA director Jeremy Strick, designer Lorraine Wild, and MoCA chief curator Paul Schimmel. Right: Artist Judy Chicago.
As the crowd sipped white wine beneath a psychedelic green light show installed on the museum’s outdoor plaza, Carolee Schneemann tugged on my elbow and wondered aloud, “What on earth is ‘WACK!’ supposed to mean?” My slow reply didn’t suit the artist, infamous for pulling a scroll from her vagina in a 1975 performance, so I ducked into the lobby and checked the catalogue: Curator Connie Butler chose the word to echo the acronyms of the many feminist activist groups operating at the time. (The new coinage, it should be noted, is not itself an acronym.)
Back outside at the bar, I overheard artist Karl Haendel call out to photographer Walead Beshty, who was nibbling grilled vegetables, “I didn’t know you were a closet feminist!” The delightfully (but not overwhelmingly) female crowd clasped hands and shared hugs, making the affair feel a bit like a high school reunion, an impression underscored by the many artists turned out in their finest taffeta and lace. The mood was euphoric.
The following day, the light show gave way to faux-Hawaiian decor for an artists’ lunch held on the same plaza. Long tables were set with brightly colored tablecloths and bamboo chairs, and the hot sun glared overhead as eighty-nine-year-old LA artist and lithographer June Wayne delivered the commencement speech. She glided to the lectern slowly, but once there her words were delivered with energy and panache. Presiding like a female Capote—petite, bespectacled, and in possession of a rapierlike wit—she offered a mélange of history and advice, including my favorite remark of the afternoon: “Feminism will have won when women can be as mediocre as men."
After Wayne’s valediction, the exhibiting artists queued up for their own moment at the podium. What began as a simple declaration of name and location (“Monica Mayer, Mexico City”) was quickly seized as an opportunity to be heard, and proclamations against the war and memorials for the dead followed. MoCA director Jeremy Strick, wearing a black turtleneck and a wool sports coat, kept a firm, professional smile on his face as he attempted to remain cool despite the eighty-degree weather. A grim-faced Abakanowicz delivered an extended lecture on powerful European women throughout history. “We were not just one moment. There have always been powerful, fearsome women.” It took Suzanne Lacy, grande dame of the city’s long-lived Woman’s Building here in Los Angeles and chair of the MFA Program in Public Practice at Otis College, only four words to deliver the same message. Raising her fist jubilantly, she called out, “Suzanne Lacy! Fierce feminist!"
Left: Documenta 12 artistic director Roger M. Buergel with Documenta 12 magazine editor in chief Georg Schöllhammer. Right: Documenta 12 magazine's Cosmin Costinas and Afterall's Pablo Lafuente. (All photos: Armin Bardel, © documenta GmbH)
“So where is it?” whispered Frieze’s Dominic Eichler, slipping into one of the chairs set up in the main exhibition hall of Vienna’s Secession. Like me and numerous other critics and journalists, Eichler had come to attend the Monday-afternoon press conference launching the first issue of the Documenta 12 magazine, titled “Modernity?” Before I could answer, Die Tageszeitung’s Brigitte Werneburg confronted the panel, headed by D12 artistic director Roger M. Buergel and the magazine’s editor in chief, Georg Schöllhammer: “How can we ask anything if we don’t have the magazine yet?”
The D12 team’s decision to hand out the publication after the press conference was part of a larger strategy to transform the once-every-five-year mega-exhibition into a “medium”: namely, from a show curated around a predetermined theme into an active (and interactive) process. For the press conference, “we didn’t want a speech, nor texts about aesthetic experience,” said Buergel. “We want to get people not just to stand there but to produce.” In other words, Buergel wasn’t about to volunteer a curatorial tract, let alone a prosaic artist list.
When I finally got my hands on the goods, it quickly became apparent that this is a wide-ranging yet intimate read, which runs from Buergel’s reflections on the origins of Documenta to the Beirut artist Tony Chakar’s epistolary essay penned shortly after Israeli bombs pummeled the city, “To the Ends of the Earth.” The eighteen other contributions, including materials from the late Lee Lozano and Mira Schendel, were selected by Schöllhammer from over three hundred texts, almost all created after he invited ninety-one publications from around the world to respond to three questions: “Is modernity our antiquity?” “What is bare life?” “What is to be done?” (Artforum and Frieze, while being “the most relevant information media in the international art world . . . represent other formats than those magazines included in the project.”)
Vienna Secession's Melanie Ohnemus and curator Helmut Draxler. Right: archplus's Martin Luce (left) and Anh-Linh Ngo (right).
Schöllhammer’s choices from the larger pool of submissions (the next two issues, “Life!” and “Education,” will appear in April and May, respectively) is not a definitive selection, but rather a guide for future DIY editors: This summer in Kassel, visitors will be able to edit their very own version of the magazine inside the Documenta Halle, which the organizers hope will include a print-on-demand service. Those unable to make the trip can download articles from a website in the works. But the miles are worth clocking, since the editors of the participating periodicals—from Ghent’s A Prior to Zehar, based in Donostia-San Sebastián—have been invited to transform the Halle into an editorial office of sorts and produce on-site commentary.
What a plan: Instead of preparing a stodgy brick of a catalogue, D12 has managed not only to garner international pre-event press coverage but also to sensitize editors, writers, and readers to the questions that the exhibition will try to address. The curators have effectively combined Okwui Enwezor’s moving “platforms” of conferences with a virtual network that will continue to produce texts up to, during, and even after the show.
Kassel’s provincialism is its greatest asset, forcing curators to bridge the local and the international in a way that organizers in a city like Berlin would never imagine necessary, and the D12 team insists that the magazine has been a two-way learning process. “The project took us to regions where we had not planned to go,” said Buergel. “Modernity means different things in France, Spain, and Lebanon.” “In China, they say, ‘We never had a modernity, and we never will,’” added his partner Ruth Noack. “Although Käthe Kollwitz has been influential in Chinese printmaking.” “These dialogues are the working process,” continued Buergel. “These correspondences are the form of the exhibition.”
I caught up with other participants at a party held later that evening, and heard repeatedly that D12’s questions prompted a dialogue between local and global perspectives. “It was better to think about our history from our own perspective than to make a general statement about modernity,” said Heie Treier from Tallinn’s kunst.ee. Editors had the chance to meet one another via “regional and transregional” meetings, which, so far, have taken place in Johannesburg, Hong Kong, São Paulo, Cairo, New Delhi, Singapore, Beirut, and Bratislava. Next stop: New York (later this month). Budapest-based curator Lívia Páldi, speaking about exindex’s participation, summed up the attendees' effusiveness: “It really energized the scene. We were forced to look at ourselves from an outside perspective.”